K-State Research and Extension News
Kansas State Climatologist Mary Knapp offers this weekly series of short programs on weather phenomena and recent meteorological events in Kansas.
Weather Wonders
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Spring burn season has arrived and there have been several days when the smoke lingers and fails to dissipate. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says one of the major reasons for lingering smoke has been an inversion – which traps the smoke at the surface until the inversion is displaced or the cap erodes.

Just as the temperature can be reported in Celsius or Fahrenheit, wind speed can be reported in knots, miles per hour and one meter per second. According to K-State climatologist Mary Knapp, understanding these different types of wind speed measurements is really the only way to know just how windy it is.

It may be spring, but that doesn’t mean winter weather is completely behind us. To prove that point, K-State climatologist Mary Knapp details a blizzard that raged from North Dakota to Kansas in mid-April, 1873 – resulting in huge snow drifts and tremendous cattle losses.

Atmospheric pressure is the force exerted by the atmosphere over a particular point. It is usually reported in terms of inches of mercury or millibars. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says what can make it confusing is that the pressure is reported as station pressure and as sea-level pressure.

Manhattan, Salina and Topeka are geographically close, but the temperature is often higher or lower in one city compared to another. According to K-State climatologist Mary Knapp, several factors can affect temperature, including terrain, elevation and local variations in air mass.

Weather reports typically include the sunrise and sunset times, but other terms are also used. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp explains the terms used to refer to twilight: the time before sunrise and after sunset.

Dew point – the water drops that appear on your lawn at night – is one basic measure of humidity. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp explains the difference between the dew point temperature and humidity and why it’s a good indicator of how low the night temperature can get.

Cumulonimbus clouds are probably one of the most recognizable cloud types. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says these clouds – which form huge columns that flatten at the top in an anvil shape – are closely associated with severe weather.

April showers bring May flowers” is probably one of the most quoted and most accurate weather sayings. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp explains how the moisture in April and the warmer weather in May combine to produce an abundance of blooming plants.

Outdoor activity typically increases on warm spring days. A concern associated with spending more time outdoors is overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet or UV radiation. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp talks about the UV Index and the precautions we can take to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays.

Early May to June is considered the peak tornado season in Kansas. However, tornadoes can occur any time and March is no exception. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp details four strong tornadoes that struck in the Pratt/Reno County area in March 1991 and the 55 tornadoes that hit the Wichita-Andover area one month later.

Just because spring has arrived, doesn’t mean we won’t experience winter weather. In fact, K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says the Kansas City area was buried by as much as 37 inches of snow on March 24, 1912 -- setting records that still stand today.

The Aurora Borealis – or Northern Lights – is a natural light display that is produced when charged particles interact with atoms in the atmosphere at high latitudes. However, K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says the light display can sometimes be seen in the middle latitudes.

The windy conditions that have prevailed this month are reminiscent of the dust storms of the 1930s. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says a series of dust storms across southeastern Colorado and western Kansas during mid-March, 1935, left some areas buried under six feet of dust!

Heavy or persistent rainfall can result in general and flash flooding, but what other factors cause flooding?  K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says two forms of flooding associated with winter precipitation are rapid snow melt and ice dams.

Outdoor enthusiasts need to pay attention to advisories other than those issued for severe storms. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says that includes wind advisories and high wind warnings which are issued to alert us to conditions that are outside of the ordinary and may be hazardous.

Kansas is certainly no stranger to strong winds. But, does the intensity of the wind or a lack of wind cause erratic behavior in people or animals? K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says the answer depends on whether the wind adds to our comfort or detracts from it.

It’s that time again when we “spring forward and fall back” as part of Daylight Saving Time. However, we aren’t actually saving time. We are essentially switching the time when daylight occurs. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp looks at the history of Daylight Saving Time.

Tornadoes get a lot of attention, but thunderstorm winds are typically more frequent and cause more damage. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp discusses two types of damaging wind: a straight-line wind and a downburst.

Longer days mean more sunshine. This in turn, provides more energy to the atmosphere which can fuel strong storms. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says this increased energy and a strong contrast in air masses can result in a severe weather outbreak.

This is National Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says “severe weather” in Kansas is often associated with tornadoes. Last year was a fairly calm year for tornadoes, but Knapp says we all need to do our part to be prepared for severe weather.

Kansas often experiences wide temperature swings in February and March. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp is often asked how wild animals and livestock are able to survive these extreme temperature swings. She says they might use several strategies: acclimation, migration and staying in a den or nest until more pleasant conditions return.

Most people associate dust storms with the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s. However, K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says major dust storms have occurred since that time period. In fact, a major dust storm in 1977 dropped visibility to near zero in Kansas for much of the day in late February.

One of the most popular weather catch phrases is “In like a lion, out like a lamb” used to describe the windy weather associated with March. According to K-State climatologist Mary Knapp, this catch phrase is often accurate because March is a transition month from winter to spring and because of global circulation patterns which can change on a 30 to 60-day cycle.

Governor Sam Brownback has issued a proclamation declaring this week (February 16-22) as Wildfire Awareness Week. Despite snow from the latest storm still on the ground, K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says we shouldn’t dismiss the importance of fire safety, especially once the snow is gone.

A man saw what appeared to be a circular rainbow around the sun and asked K-State climatologist Mary Knapp is she knew what it was? Technically, that is known as a “halo” but it is also called an ice bow or a nimbus. Knapp explains how this “halo” is formed.

Severe weather season is just around the corner. In fact, history shows a huge tornado outbreak struck the southeastern U.S. on February 19, 1884. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says it was dubbed the “Enigma Tornado Outbreak” because the exact number of tornadoes and fatalities will never be known.

- 2/7/2014
According to folklore, a ring around the moon indicates bad weather will arrive. But, is that true? K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says there actually is some truth to that folklore.

With the massive amount of snow we recently received, most people wonder how long it will take to melt. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says the answer will depend on several factors, including temperature, the amount of moisture in the air and sunshine.

- 2/7/2014
After snowfall totals of more than a foot over parts of Kansas, most people would be more than happy to get a visit from the snow eater. According to K-State climatologist Mary Knapp, chinook winds are often called the snow eater because of how quickly they can melt snow.

Ground Hog Day has been used for generations as a fun way to determine whether winter will have an early end. But, what’s the accuracy of ground hogs? K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says the answer depends on which source you consult – and regardless of the prediction, spring is going to arrive in seven weeks.

Local weather forecasts have recently been including RED flag warnings. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says a RED flag warning, based on the current weather conditions, is a warning for critical fire danger.

Determining the average annual precipitation in Kansas is not as easy as it may seem. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says that’s because the time frame and stations selected all affect the answer. However, she says there is a method for calculating a reliable answer.

The United States has experienced its share of winter weather outbreaks this year. However, K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says severe winter weather isn’t as rare or as far back in history as you might think. In fact, there was a major winter storm two years ago.

A storm produces ice on the driveway or sidewalk. In the morning, the pavement is dry, but the temperature never got above freezing and no chemical de-icers were used. Where did the ice go? K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says one possible answer is sublimation.

An air mass is identified with the region over which it formed, which is why we’ve been hearing so much about an Arctic air mass this winter. A Pacific air mass is also referenced quite frequently throughout the year. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp takes a closer look at the properties of these two air masses.

Kansas can experience some extreme winter weather in January. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says one of the more memorable weather events occurred in 1979 and wind was the biggest problem associated with the storm – producing wind chills of 30 to 40 degrees below zero.

The difference between an Alberta Clipper and a Polar Vortex is subtle. Both are incursions of an Arctic air mass into the continental United States. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says both systems can bring extremely cold weather to the U.S.

Unless you’re from Great Britain or have spent some time in certain parts of Europe, you probably aren’t familiar with ice days. K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says if ice days were like our snow days, kids would have a lot of school to make up before summer vacation could start.

Temperatures in Kansas have rebounded nicely from the arctic blast that broke numerous record low temperatures across the United States. However, K-State climatologist Mary Knapp says the 24-hour temperature changes can’t compare to an event that occurred in 1972.